Sep 18, 2023 - News

Microsoft's AI epicenter is an Iowa water hog

Raccoon River water levels near Gray's Lake Park in DSM on Sept. 6 were about a quarter of their 26-year median. Photo: Jason Clayworth/Axios

Future data center projects in West Des Moines will only be considered if Microsoft can implement technology that can "significantly reduce peak water usage," the Associated Press reports.

Why it matters: Microsoft's five WDM data centers — the "epicenter for advancing AI" — represent more than $5 billion in investments in the last 15 years.

Yes, but: They consumed as much as 11.5 million gallons of water a month for cooling, or about 6% of WDM's total usage during peak summer usage during the last two years, according to information from West Des Moines Water Works.

Meanwhile, Altoona is looking to boost its water production in coming years from the Jordan aquifer by 40%, from 5 million to 7 million gallons a day, public utilities director Daniel Scott tells Axios.

  • That's where Meta's ongoing expansion will in the next two years result in 5 million square feet of data center space, the world's largest.

Of note: Water expansion plans will likely cost about $25 million and are being driven by population growth rather than data center development, Scott said.

  • If there are future data center proposals, however, Altoona wants the capability to accommodate them, he added.

State of play: Due to low water levels, Des Moines Water Works last month raised large metal gates on the Raccoon River to boost the amount of water it could collect.

  • The utility has so far met all its customer demands with no water usage restrictions, spokesperson Melissa Walker, tells Axios.

What they're saying: Microsoft said it's working with WDM Water Works to address its feedback, per the AP.

  • The company is conscientious and is reviewing how to become more water efficient, Christina Murphy, the WDM utility's general manager, tells Axios.
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